Lawyers Submit Closing Arguments in Hong Kong's First National Security Trial

Tong Ying-kit faces life imprisonment after he rode a motorbike carrying a flag bearing a banned protest slogan.
By Lau Siu Fung
Lawyers Submit Closing Arguments in Hong Kong's First National Security Trial Hong Kong barrister Laurence Lao, representing Tong Ying-kit, speaks to reporters outside the West Kowloon Court in a July 3, 2020 photo.

Lawyers for the prosecution and the defense wrapped up their arguments on Tuesday in the trial of a Hong Kong motorcyclist accused of "terrorism" and "inciting secession" after he flew a banned slogan while riding down a street on July 1, 2020.

Tong Ying-kit is the first defendant to be tried in Hong Kong under a draconian national security law imposed on the city by the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP), which criminalizes political opposition and criticism of the authorities.

Tong, 24, was arrested by a group of police officers as he rode a motorbike at a protest against the law, carrying a flag bearing the words "Free Hong Kong, revolution now!"

The prosecution and the defense made their closing arguments to the High Court on Tuesday, with the defense focusing on the variable meanings that could be attributed to the once-ubiquitous 2019 protest movement slogan.

Tong, who has been held on remand for nearly a year, with repeated applications for bail and a writ of habeas corpus rejected by judges, has pleaded not guilty to all of the charges.

Prosecutors say the the "Free Hong Kong" part of the slogan on Tong's flag implied the city needed to be rescued from an enemy, the CCP, while "Revolution now!" implied a rejection of Chinese rule over the city.

Acting deputy director of public prosecutions Anthony Chau told the court that the prosecution only needed to prove that the defendant had communicated with others through words or actions for the charge of "incitement to secession" to be upheld.

Pedestrians and road users along the route of Tong's ride had "cheered and clapped" the defendant, proving that the defendant had communicated his message to others, Chau argued.

Too vague to incite

Senior counsel Clive Grossman, for the defense, countered that the words of the slogan were so vague they would not be capable of inciting anybody to secession.

He said the expert witnesses, Professors Francis Lee and Eliza Lee, had concluded that there could be multiple interpretations of the slogan's meaning.

Grossman said the prosecution had failed to prove beyond reasonable doubt that what his client had intended to convey was exactly what prosecution expert witness Lau Chi-pang had said it meant.

He also said that Tong had tried to avoid driving into the police officers, and noted he had in his possession a first-aid kit, far from the action that would be expected of a terrorist.

Sentencing is expected to take place early next week.

Law widely criticized

The national security law, which saw China's feared state security police set up a headquarters in Hong Kong to oversee "serious" cases, has been widely criticized by governments, rights groups, and lawyers as an assault on Hong Kong's traditional freedoms of speech, association, and political participation.

It bans both words and actions deemed "secessionist," "seditious," "subversive," or linked to "terrorism," as well as speech that is critical of the Hong Kong government or the CCP, on pain possible life imprisonment.

On Jan. 6, 2021, 53 pro-democracy activists and former opposition lawmakers were arrested for "subversion" under the law after they held a democratic primary designed to maximize their chances of winning seats in the Legislative Council (LegCo).

The authorities responded by postponing the election and arresting those who took part in the primary.

Of those arrested, 47 currently await trial on "subversion" charges, with 12 granted bail -- some only after several months in detention -- and the rest remaining in prison pending trial.

Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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